Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Sunday, February 10, 2021

To protest the de facto quota system imposed by newspaper comics-page editors upon minority-focused comic strips, a group of cartoonists have written and drawn essentially the same strip for today’s Sunday section to drive home the point.

Plans for the protest began with Cory Thomas, a Howard University grad whose strip, “Watch Your Head,” deals with college life at a predominantly African American university. Thomas, Trinidad-born and D.C.-bred, says he was frustrated by the number of times his strip was turned down by newspapers that didn’t feel the need to sign him up, because, well, they already had a black comic strip. Most editors, he says, only allow for one or two minority strips, viewing them all as interchangeable. Never mind that his strip is a world away in sensibility from the scathing sociopolitical musings of Darrin Bell’s “Candorville” or the family-focused fun of Stephen Bentley’s “Herb and Jamaal.”

So Thomas drew a strip addressing that, and then enlisted the help of Bell. From there, they got others to agree to participate: Bentley, Jerry Craft (”Mama’s Boyz”), Charlos Gary (”Cafe con Leche” and “Working It Out”), Steve Watkins (”Housebroken”), Keith Knight (”The K Chronicles”), Bill Murray (”The Golden Years”), Charles Boyce (”Compu-toon”) and editorial cartoonist Tim Jackson. Alcaraz, who says he found out too late to meet his deadline, will be chiming in on Feb. 11.

Ironically, that 1-2 minority strip allowance means that most readers won’t get the full effect of this protest — because they’ll only see one of the participating strips.

So here’s the online versions of each of the participating strips. The ones I could find, anyway. There could be more participating; I’m not going to scan hundreds of strips for verification. Also, despite being on the above list, and being acknowledged by strip artist Keith Knight, the K Chronicles strip that appears to be running today doesn’t match up with the rest of the group. But otherwise:

- Candorville’s take

- Herb and Jamaal’s take

- Watch Your Head’s take

- Compu-toon’s take

- Housebroken’s take

- Cafe con Leche’s take

- And Mama’s Boyz creator Jerry Craft provides a roundup of the rest.

Here’s the basic script (modified significantly in some strips, but with the same gist):

Old Guy: Bah! I hate this comic strip! It looks like another “Boondocks” rip-off! The newspaper got rid of the old goodies to bring in this tripe? It must be tokenism! This PC nonsense is out of control! They need to get back to the kinds of strips that everybody can relate to!

Person sitting next to Old Guy: “Everybody”, meaning you?

Old Guy: Ha ha. Oh, that Dagwood…

It’s funny how most (though not all) of the strips went with the same stereotypical gray-headed old man bitching about his favorite dinosaur ‘toon being displaced by something he can’t relate to. That gets to the heart of the matter, actually: Print newspaper readership is increasingly being reduced to older demographics, and they’re irrationally attached to comic strips that have been around for decades, regardless of whether or not those strips still have any gas left in them. From my past experience at the St. Petersburg Times (where, coincidentally, this event first got some traction, courtesy of Eric Deggans), making any changes to the comics page is guaranteed to bring a tidal wave of negative reader reaction.

So the upshot? I think it’s less a question of actively “balancing” minority respresentation on the comics page, than it is a situation where paralysis has set in. Declining readership forces the papers to be that much more responsive to their core customers, and ultimately it’s not worth trying to be innovative in an otherwise inconsequential section of the paper. The result is a patch of newsprint that’s perpetually hard to break into.

Personally, I don’t have a dog in this fight, as my paper of record doesn’t run any funny pages (other than a single avant-garde feature in the Sunday Magazine). I really thought I’d miss the strips more, but I don’t; probably speaks to the calcification of the medium.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 02/10/2021 03:42:40 PM
Category: Creative, Publishing, Society
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  1. […] blogs also picked up on the story, among them Mikhaela Reid’s Boiling Point, Costa Tsiokos’ Population Statistic, Global Wire, Comics Reporter, and Comic Book […]

    Pingback by New Village Press :: New Village Commons » Keith Knight - Cartoonist as Activist — 02/13/2008 @ 09:34:36 AM

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